• Steven Boldt

15 of Our Favorite Camping and Backpacking Spots in the Lake Superior Region

As summer 2021 starts to come to a close, the shorter days of autumn are on our doorstep. Few places are better in the fall than the Lake Superior Region in the Midwest. Lake Superior, the largest in the world by surface area and holding 10% of the world's fresh water supply, is bordered by the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota - as well as the province of Ontario, Canada.


The shoulder season before winter is perfect for enjoying many of the outdoor recreation opportunities the area has to offer. Hiking, backpacking, and biking are accented by color changing leaves, and cozying up to a fire after a long day on the trail is pure magic. The area hosts numerous harvest and October festivals, and this is the same time that many hunters start coming to the area for the opening of game seasons. It's also the last chance for comfortable boating and paddling before putting them away for the year.


Chapel Beach - Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Chapel Beach - Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Below we've listed multiple camping spots around the lake - from the far eastern parts of Michigan's Upper Peninsula around to the northernmost sections of Minnesota's North Shore, there's a great jumping off point for everyone. Backpacking around Lake Superior is just outstanding - from the family-friendly, well-traveled trails of Pictured Rocks to the true backcountry experience found in the Boundary Waters. The area is underrated when it comes to hitting the dusty trail - read about our favorites just after the car camping options.


Car Camping Options Around the Lake


1. Tahquamenon Falls State Park - Paradise, Michigan


On the far eastern side of the UP, and just an hour and a half from Mackinaw City on Michigan's Lower Peninsula, is 50,000 acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Located along the Tahquamenon River, the park's main attractions are two different waterfalls - Lower and Upper Falls.


The Upper Falls along the Tahquamenon River in the fall season
Upper Falls - Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The Upper Falls is actually one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, at 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide. While the Lower Falls is a series of 5 different cascades that surround an island in the middle of the river. When you're viewing the falls or the river, you might notice the water is an interesting amber color - this is due to the nearby cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees infusing the river with their tannins and color.


Activities & Camping

The park offers 35 miles of hiking trails, including 16 miles of the North Country Trail. The park offers an off-road track chair to visitors with mobility challenges and there are also rowboat rentals to visit the island in the middle of Lower Falls. Each fall the park holds a Harvest Festival, this years is happening on September 25th. Pets on leash are allowed in the park.


The park offers a small lodge that sleeps up to 8, and 4 different campgrounds - 2 near the Tahquamenon River's mouth on the shore of Lake Superior, and 2 inland along the river, near the falls. There are also 3 reservable hike-in campsites along the North Country Trail that have picnic tables, fire rings, bear bags, and vault toilets - the distance to these sites is between 1 and 5 miles from the parking area.


Tahquamenon State Park | Trail Map | Reservations | Directions On Google Maps


Peshekee River - Van Riper State Park

2. Van Riper & Craig Lake State Parks - Champion, Michigan


Technically, Van Riper and Craig Lake are two different state parks, though they are located adjacent to one another near the center of the UP. Van Riper is open year round and offers a modern frontcountry campground near the shore of Lake Michigamme.


Craig Lake is 8 miles west from Van Riper down a bumpy gravel road that is best suited for vehicles with high clearance - the Michigan DNR labels Craig Lake, ‘the most remote state park in the system.’ It offers primitive backcountry and walk-in sites, and it closes for the winter.


Activities & Camping

In general the area offers excellent boating, biking, hiking, fishing, and hunting opportunities, and for winter visitors, snowshoeing and non-groomed cross-country ski trails. Pets on leash are welcome in the two parks.


Van Riper has 147 campsites, some accommodate RV's and have electric hookups. There are also 3 cabins, a playground, flush bathrooms, and a dump station. The campground offers fully accessible ADA amenities as well.


Craig Lake features 22 backcountry campsites, 2 yurts, and a cabin. Fires are allowed in the provided fire rings, and a proper bear hang is required for all scented items. No trash services or toilets are available. For human waste, please dig a cathole at least 200 ft. from water sources and at least 6-8 inches deep to bury it; otherwise, please use W.A.G. Bags. Most sites here are within 2 miles of the main parking areas. Please consult the area map for more details.


Van Riper State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Craig Lake State Park | Reservations* | Directions on Google Maps


*Reservations are available for the yurts and cabin. The backcountry campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis and payment is taken at either the entrance station to Van Riper State Park or at the self-registration kiosk within Craig Lake.


Bad River - Copper Falls State Park
Bad River - Copper Falls State Park

3. Copper Falls State Park - Mellen, Wisconsin


Located just south of Ashland, WI on the Bad River, Copper Falls State Park treats visitors to beautiful waterfalls, steep gorges, and exposed, ancient lava flows. Several log buildings built by the Civilian Conservations Corps in the 1930's still remain.


Activities & Camping

The park's Loon Lake is a favorite for swimming, fishing, and paddling, and the short Doughboy's Nature Trail is a very popular hike. The area also has great biking options, and through the fall plays host to hunters hoping to score small and large game. Dogs are allowed on leash everywhere besides the Doughboy Nature Trail. There are 2 campgrounds in the park with 55 sites total. There are ADA accessible sites (including a cabin), RV sites with electrical hookups, and 6 sites are plowed throughout the winter for year-round camping. The campgrounds have picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, and a seasonal concession stand with firewood, ice, and supplies. Potable water is available from Memorial Day Weekend through October 1.


Copper Falls State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Horton Covered Bridge - Amnicon Falls State Park
Horton Covered Bridge - Amnicon Falls State Park

4. Amnicon Falls State Park - South Range, Wisconsin


Amnicon Falls State Park is set along the Amnicon River, southwest of Superior, WI by about 15 miles. The park protects a series of waterfalls, a beautiful, rustic covered-bridge, and a couple miles of trails. It is an excellent jumping off point for visits to western Lake Superior.


Activities & Camping

The park offers hiking, swimming and fishing opportunities, and is a popular hunting and trapping location. In winter, visitors enjoy snowshoeing the trails.


The park offers 36 sites, including an ADA accessible site, in a somewhat primitive campground. There are no electric hookups, showers, or dump station, and generators are not allowed to be used in the park. Vault toilets (wheelchair accessible), drinking water, and firewood sales are available.


Amnicon Falls State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


View over Duluth Minnesota in fall
Duluth, Minnesota

5. Campgrounds In Duluth, Minnesota


Duluth is (arguably) the outdoor capital of the Midwest - it's 100's of miles of hiking, biking, cross-country skiing trails, access to incredible boating and paddling, and endless fishing and hunting opportunities make it a must visit in the Lake Superior Region.


Indian Point Campground

Nestled in West Duluth above Spirit Bay, Indian Point offers a great proximity to all that the area has to offer, including the Superior Municipal Forest. There are 76 campsites, including full-hookup RV sites, showers, restrooms, a camp store with firewood, dump and trash stations, a coin-op laundry, fire-pits, and even WiFi. The campground also offers bike, kayak canoe, and pontoon boat rentals, and leashed pets are allowed (though certain breeds are not, please see their pet policy).


Indian Point Campground | Reservations: 1-(855)777-0652 | Directions on Google Maps

 

Jay Cooke State Park

Just 15 miles southeast of Duluth is Jay Cooke State Park. The park, along the beginning of the St. Louis River, features access to tons of hiking trails, a pioneer cemetery, Oldenburg Overlook and Memorial, and an incredible 200 ft. suspension bridge over the river. The park has about 80 total campsites - including ADA accessible, RV, and group sites. There are also 5 rustic cabins and 4 walk-in sites that are all about 2.5 miles from the park office. Showers, flush and vault toilets, and a dump station are available.


Jay Cooke State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps

 

Spirit Mountain Municipal Campground

Open until the end of September and overlooking Lake Superior from a high-point just outside of Duluth, Spirit Mountain is just a stones throw from great hiking, biking, and water activities, as well as all the amenities of Spirit Mountain Adventure Park. The campground has 73 campsites, RV hookups, showers, flush toilets, water, and firewood and ice sales. Pets on leash are welcome too!


Spirit Mountain Municipal Campground | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Split Rock Lighthouse - just north of Two Harbors

6. Burlington Bay Campground - Two Harbors, Minnesota


Open from mid-May to mid-October and situated on the north shore of Lake Superior, Burlington Bay Campground offers excellent boating, paddling, fishing, and biking opportunities. It also makes for a great stopping point on your way to or from the Boundary Waters or Isle Royale.


The campground offers about 150 sites, most with full hookups for RV's - there are also 10 primitive sites. Picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, showers, a camp store, and WiFi are all available, and Burlington Bay is pet friendly. As an added bonus, the campground is just a 1 mile walk from downtown Two Harbors - we highly recommend checking out Castle Danger Brewery if you're a beer drinker - and they usually have a local food truck on site!


Burlington Bay Campground | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Palisade Cliff Head - a popular climbing spot in Tettegouche State Park

7. Tettegouche State Park - Silver Bay, Minnesota


On the north shore of Lake Superior, and just outside of Silver Bay, MN lies Tettegouche State Park. The park features cliffs along Lake Superiors shoreline (best viewed from Shovel Point), gravel beaches, waterfalls, and the starting point of the Baptism River.


Activities & Camping

The park features about 20 miles of hiking trails, including 12 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail, ATV and mountain biking trails, and incredible rock climbing. Tettegouche also boasts great winter activity access for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.


The campground in the park features 74 sites - most are drive-in and RV accessible. There are also a number of walk-in sites that are about 0.5 mile from the parking area, as well as 5 backcountry sites that are along the Superior Hiking Trail and are first-come, first-served. The campground has showers, flush and vault toilets, firewood and ice sales, and even an electric vehicle charging station. In the summer, canoe rentals are available, and in the winter, snowshoe rentals.


Tettegouche State Park also operates the nearby Eckbeck Campground and Finland Campground - both of which offer more primitive spots and seclusion as compared to the modern, busy campground at Tettegouche. Pets on leash are allowed in all three campgrounds.


Tettegouche State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Twilight - Grand Marais Harbor
Twilight - Grand Marais Harbor

8. Grand Marais Campground & Marina - Grand Marais, Minnesota


About 2 hours northeast of Duluth, right on the shore of Lake Superior is Grand Marais Campground. It's a great starting point for adventures along the Superior Hiking Trail or the Gitchi-Gami State Bike Trail. The campground also features a public boat launch for those looking to head out on the water.


Open from May through October, the campground has almost 300 individual sites, including RV sites with full and partial hookups. There are showers, bathrooms, firewood and ice sales, and a WiFi hotspot. Pets are allowed on leash. The campground is just steps from downtown Grand Marais so local restaurants, bars, and shopping, as well as groceries are easy to get to.


Grand Marais Campground & Marina | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Mineral Stained Cliffs - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Backpacking Near Lake Superior


1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - Munising Township, Michigan


Pictured Rocks, along the south shore of Lake Superior, is famous for its incredible beaches, sand dunes, and multi-colored cliffs. Other main highlights include multiple shipwrecks visible from the area's high points and interesting sandstone rock formations like Chapel Rock and Miner's Castle. As you move inland there are beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and forests to explore.


Area activities include backpacking, hiking, boating, paddling, fishing, and biking. In winter, the park hosts cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and winter camping. Pictured Rocks has 3 frontcountry campgrounds, with ADA accessible and RV sites. While sites are available year round, water is turned off around mid-October. The park is also open to hunting from Labor Day through the end of March.

Spray Falls - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Spray Falls - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Backpacking

Pictured Rocks has an impressive 100 miles of trail, 42 of which comprise a section of the massive North Country National Scenic Trail. The trails follow the scenic lakeshore, and also meander through the inland topography. The area has 14 backcountry campgrounds for hikers.


Backcountry camping permits are required year round at Pictured Rocks. They are good for the dates, campsites, and party size given, and can be obtained online at Recreation.gov or by calling 1(877)444-6777.


Backcountry Regulations State:

  • Fires are permitted in only designated rings

  • No pets are allowed on trails or at backcountry campsites

  • Pack out what you pack in

  • Dispose of human waste properly - use vault toilets when available or bury waste 6-8 inches deep and at least 200 ft. from trails, water sources, and campgrounds

  • Bears are active - use the provided bear lockers for storing food and other scented items

A Few of Our Favorite Backpacking Routes

  1. Grand Island Loop - 2-4 days, 21.1 miles

  2. Lakeshore Trail - 3-5 days, 41.4 miles

  3. Chapel Loop via Mosquito Falls - 2 days, 10.1 miles

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Permit Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Trail from Summit Peak Tower - Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Trail from Summit Peak Tower - Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

2. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park


On the western side of the Upper Peninsula, and along the southern shore of Lake Superior, lies Michigan's largest state park - the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, affectionately known as 'the Porkies'. The 60,000 acre park protects a large escarpment that runs parallel to Lake Superior and houses the serene Lake of the Clouds.


The park is a popular camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, swimming and boating spot. In winter it also offers a downhill ski area, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. While it's known for its overnight backpacking opportunities, the Porkies have 2 large frontcountry campgrounds, 19 cabins, and 4 yurts available.


Backpacking

The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness features an outstanding 90 miles of hiking trails, both inland and along the shore of Lake Superior. Routes move through and around Lake Superior's shoreline, marshland, rocky cliff sides, and beautiful backcountry lakes. The area also has 63 different backcountry campsites for backpackers to choose from.


Backpacking in the park requires reserving trail-side campsites and then picking up a backcountry permit once you arrive at the park. Any sites not reserved are left to first-come, first-served backpackers. The park highly recommends campsite reservations before October 14th - they can be made by calling 1-800-44-PARKS or online. If you’re new to the area or planning a backpacking trip, we suggest checking out our itineraries and also calling the park - the rangers will be happy to help you put something together!


We have 13 different backpacking routes mapped on our Porcupine Mountains area page - from short, two day jaunts to longer options, there's something for everyone. A few of our favorites are:

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Seacaves on Devil's Island - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Seacaves on Devil's Island - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

3. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


This is less of a backpacking experience, but you'll still need to carry everything in a backpack! The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is an archipelago of 21 islands, just beyond a 12 mile segment of Lake Superior shoreline on Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula.


Activities and Reservations

The mainland features cliffs and sea caves to explore, as well as one trail, it starts at Meyers Beach and ends 6 miles north at a reservable campsite - Mainland Campsite 1. The islands offer secluded campsites and primitive camping, beaches, and 50 miles of trails spread across them. The trails access lighthouses, abandoned quarries, old farm sites and logging camps, and countless scenic viewpoints.


Permits and reservations are required to stay at all the campsites within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - when reserving campsites, they will ask you a series of questions and to agree to their terms and regulations. Upon completion, you’ll receive a link to either print your permit or you can get it from a ranger station before you start your trip.


When staying in the Apostle Islands, please follow the park's regulations:

  • Pets are allowed on leash

  • Use the provided bear lockers in designated campsites (if primitive camping, hang food and garbage in the trees - at least 12 ft. off the ground and 6 ft. out from the trunk)

  • Don't use soap within 100 ft. of (or in!) Lake Superior


Boating & Paddling

There are no roads to any of the islands, so getting to them is at least half the fun. Kayaking and paddling are the main methods of transportation here - either take your own, use a guided service, or rent one from a local outfitter.


Apostle Island Cruises is the only National Park Service authorized concessionaire, and offers sightseeing tours and shuttles to certain islands (Please note: for the 2021 season, they aren't running shuttles, just tours).


There's also a whole list of local companies offering ways to access and recreate around the islands. There are guided paddling tours and overnight camping trips, kayak rentals, chartered powerboat tours, water taxis, chartered fishing, and sailboat tours and rentals.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Jupiter and the Milky Way - Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Jupiter and the Milky Way - Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

4. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness


Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a large, protected area in northeastern Minnesota, along the Canadian border and just west of Lake Superior. It is certainly known for its canoeing and paddling opportunities, but also has a ton of backpacking trails and routes - over 200 miles to be exact. Though, be forewarned, they are not often travelled and can be overgrown and difficult to follow in places - they are a true backcountry experience!


Aside from the 1,000,000+ acres of wilderness and 1,000+ lakes, BWCAW is the largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world. The Dark Sky designation means the area has exceptionally little light pollution and is usually quite remote - stars, planets, the Milky Way, and occasionally even the Northern Lights astound visitors throughout the year.


Backpacking and Permits

The Boundary Waters Wilderness is managed by the overarching Superior National Forest - there are over 250 backcountry campsites, 23 developed campgrounds, and 18 rustic campgrounds between the two. The rustic campgrounds, best of all, operate on a first-come, first-served basis and are free to use! Check out the Superior NF Camping Guide for more information.


Between May 1 - September 30, BWCAW operates under a quota permit system, meaning only so many visitors are allowed to enter the Wilderness from each trailhead. While some walk-in permits may be available during this time period, it’s highly recommended to make a reservation ahead of time to ensure your entry.


For the rest of the year, October 1 - April 30, self-issued permits are required to enter the Wilderness. They may be obtained from the kiosks at the trailheads or local Forest Service offices.


Please note: 2020 saw a record number of visitors enter the area and sadly, a record amount of human-caused damage. Don’t cut down live trees, dispose of your trash and human waste properly, store your food properly, and never leave your campfire until it is completely out.


Take a look at our Boundary Waters area page when you're planning your trip. The page will give you plenty of details about the area and you can check out our pre-made backpacking routes through the area, here are a few of our favorites:

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness | Reservations | Directions on Google Maps


Scoville Trail - Isle Royale National Park
Scoville Trail - Isle Royale National Park

5. Isle Royale National Park


Isle Royale National Park is an area, just shy of 900 square miles, in north-central Lake Superior. It consists of large Isle Royale itself, and about 450 smaller islands that surround it. Isle Royale has a rugged coastline and is made up of impressive ridges and valleys, boreal forest, and inland lakes and stream.


Because it requires a boat or seaplane to access it (and the park has no roads or cars) it’s one of the least visited National Parks. It is famous for its unique and pristine ecosystem. Most guests take an official ferry from either Houghton, MI or Grand Portage, MN, though you’re also welcome to take your private boat or rent a water taxi to get to and from the island.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse - Isle Royale National Park
Rock Harbor Lighthouse - Isle Royale NP

While no bears are on the island, there are moose, wolves, foxes, and an incredible array of birds. Hiking, fishing, boating, and paddling are the most popular activities here. It's one of the only National Parks to close for the winter, it's open through the end of October.


Backpacking

With 165 miles of lightly travelled hiking trails, Isle Royale is a backpackers paradise. Routes climb the island's central ridge lines, meander through low lying marshes, and hug the bays and shoreline. The island's campsites all offer great solitude and operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so you don't have to reserve anything in advance!


Permits are required for overnighting on the island and are free for groups from 1-6, and are $25 for groups 7-10. Groups larger than 10 are asked to split into two smaller groups. Permits can be obtained from the visitor centers once on the island (if you take the Ranger III Ferry, you’ll actually be able to get one on the boat!).


Though permits and campsites are free, the park does charge a $7 per person, per day entrance fee. That fee can be paid in advance online or upon arrival at one of the visitor centers. There are also season passes available for $60 per person.


We love Isle Royale, in fact it's Carrie's (our Director of Business Development) favorite National Park by far! We've covered many popular backpacking routes on our Isle Royale area page and here are some we think you'll like:

Isle Royale National Park | Entrance Fee Advance Payment | Directions on Google Maps


Moskey Basin - Isle Royale National Park
Moskey Basin - Isle Royale National Park
 

We hope you're ready to head to Lake Superior for your next camping and backpacking trips - or whatever your outdoor activity of choice is. If you need help planning a route, finding a campsite, or prepping your meals, that's where we at RightOnTrek come in!


Take a look at our Trail Finder Catalog, Meal Planner and Meal Store, or, if you're not finding exactly what you're looking for, shoot us an email at info@rightontrek.com - we're more than happy to help get you out there, it's literally what we're here for!


Finally, a friendly PSA - our National and State Parks and Forests have been seeing many more visitors than they are used to. If you're heading out into our wild spaces, please, don't leave fires unattended or let them get out of control, pack out what you pack in, respect wildlife and other visitors, and follow Leave No Trace Principles.


Happy Adventuring!

 

Steven, the author, is from Wisconsin and now lives in Portland, OR. He is the Head of Wilderness Data and Community for RightOnTrek. When he’s not hiking, biking, or snowboarding in the Cascades, you can catch him eating a sushi burrito and drinking a beer at one of Portland’s food truck pods.

 

Have a question, comment, or a spot we should have mentioned? Please, leave a comment below or send Steven a message at sboldt@rightontrek.com.


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